God’s Emotions 7: The Stepford Jesus (Love and Narcissism)

Note:  This is Part Seven in a series, “God’s Emotions: Why the Biblical God is so Very Human.”  Parts 1-6 are available at this website or at www.awaypoint.wordpress.com.

I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.
The Smiths

In Ira Levin’s satirical thriller, The Stepford Wives, a young mother named Joanna discovers that her small town friends have been replaced by sophisticated robots manufactured over time by the town’s men. How does she figure it out?  The women seem too unidimensional, too perfect, too content to be exactly what their husbands want them to be. Joanna visits the library and realizes that the cheerful, docile women around her once had been intelligent and complicated, with interests of their own. Now they serve beautifully as beautiful adjuncts to their husbands.

Levin’s book is meant to be a commentary on the sexist narcissism that lets some men treat women simply as a means to meet their own desires. But in reality, we all have a little bit of the Stepford husband in us, both in our personal lives and in our religious yearnings.

In marital therapy, couples often uncover a “be spontaneous paradox” that has them locked into a no-win situation:  I want you to know how I’m feeling, but I don’t want to have to tell you. Or I want you to bring me roses on our anniversary, but you should have realized that long ago. Now that I’ve told you, if you bring them next time I’ll just get mad. We want our spouses to have intuitive access to our thoughts, wishes, and preferences, (though only sometimes, of course, and they should know when).

There are similarities between what we want from our spouses and what we want from God.  In particular we want the psychic fusion that is achieved mechanically in Levin’s novel, when the replacement wife becomes simply an extension of her husband’s dreams and desires.  How many times have I sat through the wedding ritual in which one lit candle is handed to the bride and one to the groom so they can simultaneously light a third candle, then blow out their individual flames? How many times have you?

In a similar vein, Christians sing, “We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord,” evoking fusion of mind and purpose in the spiritual community. The quest of the mystic is to be one with God, to be consumed by his presence. The quest of the “servant-leader” is to be the hands and feet of God in the world. But because we are human, those individual candles never really go out. What people want, inevitably, is that God becomes a channel through which they can work their will in the world. That is the point of intercessory prayer.

What is at the very heart of human desires?  To be loved. The Smiths said it. And isn’t it interesting that according to Christian teachings, love for us is the emotional core of the risen Jesus, the one who dwells in human hearts and hears the prayers of little children. We move through the world with all of our imperfections and he loves us unconditionally. So, he intervenes for us when it comes time for taking math tests or finding parking spaces, and he forgives us everything short of voting Democratic.

I’m being ironic about how small-minded our self-god fusions can be; how small mine was when I was a believer.  But in reality the feeling of being loved and consequently forgiven (and consequently deserving) is both powerful and tremendously empowering. It allows us to love and forgive ourselves and to ask so that we may receive. This benefit accrues to believers whether the Jesus who loves them is real or not.

Approximately sixty five percent of preschoolers, especially those who are firstborns or onlies, meet some of their social needs by creating imaginary friends. One of the appealing aspects of the imaginary friend is that she is at her creator’s call—perfectly available when needed, perfectly absent when not, ready to engage in whatever play activities, conversations or even spats that a child may prefer. Research suggests that these imaginary friendships have real world benefits. For example, they appear to help children hone their verbal skills or explore difficult feelings.

I might ask whether a loving Jesus-friend (again whether real or not) plays a similar role for adults. But before I could ask that, a preliminary question would have to be addressed, because I’m not sure that I know what “Jesus loves me” means. At a feelings level, love means having a sense of tender affection for another person, gaining pleasure from their proximity or even their mere existence. At a hormonal level, it means being flooded with oxytocin. At a functional level, it bonds parents to children and, secondarily spouses and friends to each other so that social interchange doesn’t have to be based on rational calculus (which isn’t nearly as compelling).

But God loves me, what does that mean?  My Encarta dictionary says that within Christian belief God’s love is the “mercy, grace, and charity shown by God to humanity.”   That sounds close.  But the Bible says in many places that God is merciful, generous, and full of grace. It also says that he is loving, and I think the writers meant it—in part because we humans don’t know how to conceive of a person-god without emotions. How would we relate to a Spock-god?  How would he respond to our emotions?  Imagine baring your deepest feelings to an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent supercomputer in the sky– who doesn’t love you. Persons without emotions are the stuff of comedy or tragedy.

To reiterate, it makes sense that we expect Jesus to have emotions. That we say his defining emotion is his great love for us, that we imagine him to offer the unconditional affection that we couldn’t get from our parents—perhaps this should make us a little sheepish. It could be true, but it sounds indistinguishable from wish-thinking. The Jesus of the gospels is emotionally complex. He is not as complex as the God of the Hebrews, but he gets angry at times and he weeps. His emotions, usually, have a sort of proportionality that provides a foil against Yahweh’s mood swings. But the Jesus of modern Christians –especially liberal Christians–has a bit of that same two dimensionality that caused Joanna in Stepford to become suspicious. Perhaps it should make us suspicious too.  

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light, (Revised ed of The Dark Side) and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles can be found at awaypoint.wordpress.com.

Dig Deeper:
Paul Watzlawick. The Situation is Hopeless but not Serious, New York: Norton, 1993.

Evan Kidd. (2009). “Imaginary Friends with Evan Kidd,” La Trobe University, http://www.latrobe.edu.au/news/articles/2009/podcasts/imaginary-friends-with-evan-kidd/transcript

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
This entry was posted in God's Emotions: Why The Biblical God is So Very Human, Musings & Rants: Christianity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to God’s Emotions 7: The Stepford Jesus (Love and Narcissism)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention God’s Emotions 7: The Stepford Jesus (Love and Narcissism) | Away Point -- Topsy.com

  2. Go pick someone else. I won't waste my time with you. says:

    Their role throughout history is to communicate the god’s wisdom so the entire family can progress when reincarnated. Effectively acomplishing this task may buy them a quality opportunity to ascend in their next life.

    Your job as a future mother is to learn the god’s ways and to help your child understand despite the negative reinforcement and conditioning of today’s society. Without consciousous parents the child will have no hope, and may even exaserbate their disfavor by becoming corrupted in today’s environment.
    Your ultimate goal is to fix your relationship wiith the gods and move on. You don’t want to be comfortable here, and the changes in Western society in the last 100 years has achieved just that.
    1000 years with Jesus is the consolation prize. Don’t be deceived into thinking that is the goal.

    Much like the other prophets Mohhamed (polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny) and Jesus (forgiveness/savior), the gods use me for temptation as well. In today’s modern society they feel people are most weak for popular culture/sensationalism, and the clues date back to WorldWarII and Unit731:TSUSHOGO, the Chinese Holocaust. They used this Situation to bury Japanese atrocities. And since the gods never committed despite tens of billions in mass media, product development and natural disasters/tragedy they will employ the freedom they positioned into the Situation and CHEAT me out of everything.
    It has been discussed that, similar to the Matrix concept, the gods will offer a REAL “Second Coming of Christ”, while the “fake” Second Coming will come at the end and follow New Testiment scripture and their xtian positioning. I may be that real Second Coming.
    What I teach is the god’s true way. It is what is expected of people, and only those who follow this truth will be eligible to ascend into heaven as children in a future life. They offered this event because the masses have just enough time to work on and fix their relationship with the gods and ascend, to move and grow past Planet Earth, before the obligatory xtian “consolation prize” of “1000 years with Jesus on Earth” begins.

    The Prince of Darkness, battling the gods over the souls of the Damned.
    It is the gods who have created this environment and led people into Damnation with temptation. The god’s positioning proves they work to prevent people’s understanding.
    How often is xtian dogma wrong? Expect it is about the Lucifer issue as well.
    The fallen god, fighting for justice for the disfavored, banished to Earth as the fallen angel?
    I believe much as the Noah’s Flood event, the end of the world will be initiated by revelry among the people. It will be positioned to be sanctioned by the gods and led for “1000 years with Jesus on Earth”.
    In light of modern developments this can entail many pleasures:::Medicine “cures” aging, the “manufacture” of incredible beauty via cloning as sex slaves, free (synthetic) cocaine, etc.
    Somewhere during the 1000 years the party will start to “die off”, literally. Only those who maintain chaste, pure lifestyles, resisting these temptations, will survive the 1000 years. Condemned to experience another epoch of history for their ignorant pursuit of xtianity, they will be the candidates used to (re)colonize (the next) Planet Earth, condemned to relive the misery experienced by the peasantry throughout the course of history due to their failure to ascend into heaven before the Apocalypse.
    Never forget:::It is not a house of Jesus.
    If this concept of Lucifer is true another role of this individual may be to initiate disfavor and temptation among this new colonist poulation, the proverbial “apple” of this Garden of Eden. A crucial figure in the history of any planet, he begins the process of deterioration and decay that leads civilizations to where Planet Earth remains today.

    Consistant with “reverse positioning” understand the REAL Second Coming would equate with The Matrix’s Anti-Christ, the fake battle of good and evil which will come at the end.
    Understanding how they use the political environment to redefine people’s value system, realize anyone who speaks of the old world and its ways will envoke hatred. So when/if the Anti-Christ comes along speaking of reverting back to what liberalism would consider regressive and unfair, it may be the only hope to salvage the god’s favor and buy more time rather than begin the 1000 year clock. The fake Second Coming will feed into this political enviornment.
    Also consistant with “reverse positioning” recognize the gods will offer a REAL Anti-Christ, also known as The Beast. I have addressed these issues in years past::::
    The gods will offer clues throughout every dynamic of life. Geographical features on the world map is yet another.
    The Beast is not a person, as the xtian Bible would suggest. It is a place:::The San Francisco Bay Area. And it refers to the socio-political poison the region exuded in the latter 20th century which promoted indecent behavior among the people and caused rapid deterioration of their favor among the gods. This decay spread to other states and countries, fulfilling the region’s role as The Beast of the Apocalypse.
    Another feature which the Gods offer as a clue is very foreboading. Mt. Zion is a mountain to the north of the eye of The Beast Diablo and one which has a working quarry at its base. Consistant with the decay we experience in society, Mt. Zion is being eaten away, slowly stripped of its resources, until one day paradise will be gone forever.


  3. I liked your observations and insights, sprinkled with a touch of humor and a bit of The Smiths (I listened to them in college!) Yes we are all human and need to be loved, and to give love (at least the non-sociopaths do!) I have come to experience the reality that some people really don’t have ’emotion’ and conscience, and they use religion or whatever suits them, to obtain their ends, as you have gone over in your previous posts. You are right on target about us looking to God to fulfill what our parents neglected in our emotional development.


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